Cage Fight: Emotional Pain v. Physical Pain

Would you rather have emotional pain or physical pain?

Think on this for a moment.


I have been thinking on a version of this question for the past couple of weeks, while I’ve been getting to the better side of a searing bout of emotional pain, only to then have been walloped with some of the worst, most debilitating physical pain I have endured in my adult life. (This statement is not an invitation to compare and contrast physical pain stories, it’s just a fact that from Saturday to Tuesday, I was in a place of 24/7 physical misery that I have not experienced pretty much ever. Ow does not begin to cover it.)

This unholy alliance of the emotional and physical really had me thinking, what is the one I would prefer to be forced to handle.

Even though it is relentless, give me emotional pain ANY DAY EVER.

Friends who know the roots of my brand of emotional pain may be shocked that I am picking this side, especially because it might worry them that I could sink under the weight of these types of hurts to the point of severe depression, where I bottomed out before and they do not want to see me back in that terrible place. I realized how scary it is for them a few weeks ago, when, looking for someone to just mind the fire of my flared up anger/sadness/shock/humiliation due to, shall we call it, an unfortunate situation with a man, I unintentionally hurt their feelings by rejecting the quick comfort and affirmations they were trying to offer. I had wanted and needed to freak the fuck out, to cry and yell out all that bile and self-doubt and have it be witnessed by trusted allies so that once I calmed down, I would have the space to accept the love and comfort and wisdom that they were ultimately trying to offer all along. The misunderstanding inherent in poor communication was quickly handled and forgiven – this is the blessing of old friendships that are treated with care and respect and grow mighty over the years – but I thought a lot about how the baring of raw emotional pain can be perceived as a confrontation, even for the closest in our tribes.

A pause for a moment to remind, that yes, I still pick emotional pain over physical pain. Deep breath. I’m getting there. Hang in with me.

We are all masochists a little bit. We are all masochists a little bit because so often on the other side of a smidge of misery is a reward. Physically, this is much easier to compute. As a runner, I know that if I don’t experience some muscle soreness, I am not training hard enough to go faster, or be stronger for the next event. So, I invite some pain into my body, knowing that it is temporary and that the reward is strength and speed. Emotionally, this is a bit tougher to explain, but the risk and reward scenario is similar. In order to have fulfilling relationships with friends, family, lovers and partners, we have to know we will feel some discomfort from time to time and we have to be willing to accept that it triggers at totally different times for all of us all the time. And here’s what thrills me about that entire cycle of emotional pain: we can absolutely make it safe for our people to bare their pain, to just get it out, to just hold it for them, and then when they are ready, ask what kind of comfort they need, wait patiently for their answer, and then help them get that comfort. We are the Vicodin for each other. And we’re non-narcotic.

I know, you think I am on Vicodin while writing this, but nope, totally sober! Re-read that paragraph. It makes total sense. Do it.

Physical pain is the student teacher to emotional pain’s professor. Physical pain is also a nuisance, which by its very definition means it’s minor. Do not get me wrong. I have friends and family who have endured car accidents, bike crashes, skiing wrecks, street fights, knee surgery, root canals, amputations, migraines, child birth, chemotherapy, fibromyalgia, MS, you name it, I have watched and offered comfort during the physical suffering of so many and it’s hard. It’s so very hard. But for the most part, physical pain is finite and its lessons are not as transformative as emotional pain. Yes, much physical and emotional pain gets intertwined, but when looked at separately, it’s the emotional pain that really has something to teach us.

It wants us to learn to be courageous and kind.

It wants us to learn to hold each other’s pain, not try to take it away immediately.

It wants us to ask each other, what do you need right now, and then to listen to the answer and abide by it.

It wants us to be courageous and kind.

Winner by a… yes, a knockout: emotional pain.


19 thoughts on “Cage Fight: Emotional Pain v. Physical Pain

  1. True story: I read the beginning and said “I’d chose physical pain for sure!” And then I kept reading (and thought you were nuts or high at first). And then I started to totally get where you’re coming from and it makes sense and I might … even … agree with you. I dunno though. I have a bitch of a time learning valuable lessons from emotional pain. The point is, I’m really sorry you’re having to deal with EITHER ONE! xoxo

    1. swear to all higher powers or whatevers, I was totally sober! yes, dealing with either is absolute shit balls, but I really think that sitting in the emotional pain and letting is pass though brings more insight and depth and confidence on the other side. as a physical pain masochist aka runner, I know it is going to pass or can be cured with a magic pill, and then it is, poof… gone! which is good obvi, who wants to suffer??? I guess it’s that I value what I learn every time from emotional struggle and have finally gotten to the point where I now how to APPLY the lessons. thanks for reading KB!!! xoxoxo stay warm over there, heard it’s hella cold!

  2. Darlin’, while I hear, love, and can internalize your lesson, the coward in me would opt for physical pain any day of the week simply because it is usually finite. There is one kind of emotional pain–the death of a loved one– that just never subsides completely and its lessons are more brutal than transformative.

    This is one of THE best blog entries you have ever written I think (which is saying something considering your words always touch and resonate with me). It is courageous and insightful. You are a gem. You are also my Vicodin. xo

    1. the fact that you are able to share the ongoing grief for that loss to me means in that glimmer of a moment, you are totally courageous. and that is what I was trying to get at here… if we sit in it and more importantly, make it safe for our loved ones to do so, we do actually transform AND get more courageous. I see that in you, even if you do not. and you have endured a shit storm of physical pain!!! here’s to real and metaphorical Vicodin. xoxoxo (and thank you for the kind words.)

  3. I have learned over the years to function with physical pain, and I find emotional pain far more debilitating (and sometimes, the emotional pain leads to physical pain and then whoa nellie I am a hot mess). I wish I was enlightened enough to rise above all of it – physical and emotional – but I will settle for being able to sit with it, process it, try to get a handle on it, and then keep on trucking. Doesn’t always happen, but it’s a goal every day. Hope you are feeling better in every way. Thank goodness the holidays are over, right?.

    1. DC, I think your intention to sit/process/handle/truck is exactly why I am okay with emotional pain, even though it f’ing hurts, that process makes so much sense to me. Physical pain seems arbitrary and well, it HURTS! I am feeling good and strong and alive. Thanks for reading and sharing xoxo (and yes, happy another season is behind me, hopeful I do better next time!)

  4. Both pains can go deep into the soul of a person. For physical pains they think they can find enough treatments from the pharmacological world, but there are many who are not helped by medical drugs. Also for Psychological pain that does not bring the best solution and emotional pain needs a totally different treatment.
    People should be more aware how they can help the other bear the pain, physical as well as psychological. Often the love of people around us can do much more than we think to solve many pains.

    1. agreed, love is the answer to healing what ails us. I think we are scared of pain, both types, but when we face it and ask for help and then take the help (something I am learning to do with more grace), we can bear it. thanks for commenting.

  5. Sometimes people do think that others do not understand their pain. this can block the way to treatment. They would be better to be open and let others enter into their world of pain and be willing also to focus on totally different things, trying to see the more positive elements in live. Focus on the beautiful things in the world and all the small blessings will make a lot of difference.
    For those who want to see the Hand of a Creator, there is the Faith in His ability to guide us and to strengthen us on our path. They shall be able to find lots of support in the Bible. But those who do not believe in the Almighty God may also find lots of support in that old Book full of Wisdom. In it, they also shall be able to find ways to cope with their problems and pains. Therefore we could recommend to try it to take up that Book of Books and read it, perhaps starting with the Book of Job.

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